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Consider The Burma-Vita Company, a company Pre-Facebook, owned by Clinton Odell. Sales of their liniment were ‘sparse,’ so in 1925 the company introduced a product with wider appeal. The result was Burma-Shave, a new, ‘brush-less’ shaving cream.

American culture at that time included the assumption that most employees and most drivers were males, during a time that full face beards weren’t common in most parts. Many towns then and now have restrictions on the number and size of commercial signs on the roadside.

With almost no limited-access high speed highways, most people were thrilled to drive speeds once described as “a mile a minute.” So, we have men (who for the most part shaved daily) on well-traveled highways, moving at comparatively slow speeds over long distances, with little to do, but drive.

Did we mention there were no cell phones (the first real world cell phone call was in 1973), and CB (Citizen’s Band) radio, although an earlier technology was invented in 1940, didn’t become truly widespread outside of license-holder groups until 1975; prior to the late 1970s a license was required. “HAM” radio was expensive and required the passing of tests showing considerable technical acumen. Distractions or entertainment? No Sirius satellite radio. FM radio wasn’t invented yet. 8-track tapes, cassettes, Compact discs? Future, science fiction stuff in 1925.

I know.  I know. How did people survive! Today, anyone without an iPhone seems like  a caveman.

But modern reality in 1925, and for about 40 years was boredom on the road. The company had the new Burma-Shave product, and the son of the owner, Allan Odell, had an idea: pay attention to the cost-effective, result-generating possibilities of focused target marketing and advertisements that potential customers loved to see. In modern parlance, RTM (routes-to-market).

Burma-Shave Signs: Marketing Genius

Then came the Burma-Shave signs with their witty, funny, and effective ad slogans spaced out over some distance on the highway driven by men who looked forward to reading the next sign.

This was marketing genius. With a 1925 marketing budget of $250, sales increased dramatically. Imagine: advertisements that prospects loved to read.

Burma-Shave signs, starting in Minnesota, were in 45 States, including along Route 66; which was the name of a popular TV show aired from 1960 – 1964. It was ironically the same time that the new Interstate highways were being developed. Route 66 still carries an air of legend and was even featured in the 2006 Disney / Pixar movie, “Cars.” Burma-Shave ads were well loved part of the American way of life.

A Change of Culture

The demise of the Burma-Shave signs, and also the loss of the incredibly increased sales that came (and went) with the three-foot signs was caused mostly by the increased speeds allowed by the new Interstate Highways authorized by legislation passed June 29, 1956. The creation of the “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” mostly bypassed the highways of the 1920s that involved slower driving speeds. The roads with Burma-shave signs were becoming less traveled.

Huge billboards replaced the three foot painted signs, along with the ability to actually see, and want to see, the Burma- shave roadside ad campaigns. The signs are mostly now in museums, and the once-wonderful sales revenues went out with a whimper. So did the company, which was sold in 1963. Online discussion groups have men relating that they were fortunate enough to have actually found Burma-Shave products sometime in the past several years. The Burma-Shave brush-less shaving cream was discontinued, with the company itself in 1966. 1997 saw the re-introduction of the Burma-Shave company, but no actual Burma-Shave brush-less shaving cream.

How could this have happened?

Yesterday’s Genius Can Be Tomorrow’s Old News

The genius of low cost, high return and great RTM principles and strategies used by Burma-Shave was a force that changed the practice and science of effective advertising. However, as Burma-Shave discovered, irrelevance will cost you. When the climate of your prospects change, as with the introduction of Interstate highways, failure to adjust to current realities will cost you time and money.

Burma-Shave failed to adapt their marketing strategies to current realities, and the result was a catastrophic loss of sales revenue leading to the sale of the business, and its ultimate shut-down.

The Times, They Are Always Changing

The list of social media platforms goes on and on.  The most appropriate social networking sites that will yield the most favorable audience for your business could be completely different days, months or years from right now. Remember Burma-Shave. Emulate their smart, out-of-the-box moves, but don’t make the mistake of failing to realize that the cultural environment is subject to change.

3rd Party Info: 6 Ways Social Media Will Change in 2014

Plain and simple, your social media strategy should resemble a gymnast.  Strong, agile, balanced, able to take direction—and of course, flexible.  With these qualities, your social media practices are poised to bring home the gold on a consistent basis.